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Tracing GHG Emissions to Specific Sources - Climate TRACE

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Tracing GHG Emissions to Specific Sources

Nov 14, 2022

By Ann Marie Gardner


Climate TRACE’s recent November 9 data release included a number of major updates, but perhaps the most notable is the inclusion of facility-level emissions data. More specifically, we include the emissions from more than 70,000 facilities in the dashboard—including the top 500 largest-known sources of emissions for each sector, such as individual power plants, ships, oil and gas fields, cement factories, and steel mills. Data for millions more individual emissions sources is available for download outside the website dashboard, especially land use sectors such as forest, fertilizer, and rice emissions at the province level (ranging from 10–500 m to 10 km resolution, depending on the sector).

As coalition member Al Gore wrote in a Science article last week, “In the 30 years since the world began negotiating the reduction of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, no one has identified exactly where all that pollution is coming from.” Now we do. And the possibilities for identifying low-hanging fruit and prioritizing the most-impactful emissions reduction strategies are profound.

Three use cases ready for action now

Country- and sector-level data remain crucial for tracking emissions, calculating progress toward the UN Paris Agreement and other climate targets, and identifying decarbonization priorities. Facility-level data are a powerful complement and make possible other important use cases, such as:

Supply chain Scope 3 decarbonization: Scope 3 (supply chain) emissions are getting more attention than ever. An accurate and complete understanding of Scope 3 emissions is central to any life cycle assessment (LCA) of a company’s or product’s carbon footprint. Companies can now use facility-level data to make decisions that can help reduce their Scope 3 emissions, like buying goods from the lowest-emitting factories, sourcing lower-emissions steel, or shipping their goods on the lowest-emitting container ships.

Emissionality: Emissionality is the strategy of making procurement, investment, and other decisions on the basis of real-world emissions impacts from actions. Coalition member WattTime first popularized the term with respect to renewable energy siting and procurement—helping target new renewable energy capacity on dirtier grids where wind and solar could displace more fossil-fueled generation and achieve greater avoided emissions. Using Climate TRACE facility-level data, a similar approach can now be applied across a range of sectors by countries and companies alike.

ESG investing: Bloomberg forecasts that ESG assets may reach $53 trillion by 2025, more than a third of total global assets under management (AUM). Yet as climate-related financial disclosures are becoming increasingly central to markets and publicly traded companies, facility-level emissions data could become an integral part of both disclosures and climate-smart investment.

How does Climate TRACE produce facility-level data?

Although our November 2022 release is making facility-level data publicly available for the first time, granular data has always underpinned Climate TRACE emissions numbers. That granularity is because of our fundamental approach to developing sector- and country-level emissions estimates. We start by using satellite imagery and other remote sensing—paired with artificial intelligence and machine learning—to identify emissions-causing activities. Those activities, of course, come from specific facilities such as power plants, ships, and steel mills. For last year’s 2021 data release, such numbers ‘rolled up’ to sector- and country-level totals. This year, users are able to examine the granular facility-level data with unprecedented detail for 2021 emissions. Future Climate TRACE data releases will retroactively enable facility-level emissions for prior years.

Facility-level data don’t tell us who is responsible for those emissions

Identifying exactly where emissions come from down to the facility level is one thing. Assigning responsibility for those emissions is quite another. Climate TRACE data identifies owner(s) for each facility in our database. However, we leave it for users to decide how to incorporate such data into their own analyses. For example, consider something as ‘simple’ as an individual power plant and its owner. Should the emissions be assigned to the immediate owner? To a parent company if it’s wholly owned? To equity investors? To the offtaker of the power, whether a utility or another entity? These are tough decisions, but we can’t even consider making such decisions if we can’t map emissions down to specific sources. Now, Climate TRACE is making it possible to assign specific emissions to specific sources.

You can explore the asset-level data for yourself on the Climate TRACE website.

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Independent Greenhouse gas Emissions Tracking

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